Coupeville resident Jay Adams will be loaning his vintage apple press to next Saturday’s Cider Festival at Pacific Rim Institute. Mosa Neis with PRI shows off the bushels of apples and variety of cider available for tasting. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times.

New festival features fresh and fermented cider

Washington state’s official fruit in its fermented form is coming to a Whidbey Island festival.

Finally.

Presented by Pacific Rim Institute, Whidbey’s First Cider Festival on Saturday, Sept. 30 features freshly-pressed juice for kids and many samples of the hard stuff for adults.

Nine cider companies from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, along with Tulip Valley Winery, will offer tastings from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Admission is free but tickets and age identification are required for tastings.

Eight 4-oz. cider tastings with a take-home logo glass cost $25 in advance; $30 at the door.

“Enjoying the fruits of Whidbey Island and the Northwest is its purpose,” said Robert Pelant, director of PRI, the Coupeville-based nonprofit organization dedicated to awareness and protection of threatened ecosystems.

The festival also serves as a kick-off event for Whidbey Island Grown Week, a celebration of local food.

Live music, food vendors, children’s activities are planned. Apple trees and native plants will be on sale.

Although the cider being tasted is “hard,” kids can get juiced, too.

Coupeville resident Jay Adams plans to demonstrate how his bright red vintage apple press works. Expect many rounds of the quintessential crisp drink of fall to stream from smushed, scrunched apples. Also, you can expect to help, because apple pressing isn’t an app, it’s a hands-on activity.

Though many Washington towns, cities and islands host cider festivals, Whidbey hadn’t, Pelant said.

“We were discussing with some Coupeville and Island County leaders about shoulder-season events and how PRI could create an event that would serve multiple purposes,” Pelant said. “Several people, including Dan Vorhis of Muscle and Arm Farm and Sherrye Wyatt of Island County Tourism, promoted the idea of a cider festival and began to work with us.”

Numerous Northwest cideries jumped at the chance to lure new customers on a smaller stage, than say Seattle CiderFest where there are 150 brands.

“They are thrilled not to have to compete alongside dozens of others,” Pelant said.

Cider is basically fermented apple juice. By law, it has to have an alcohol content no greater than seven percent, which is lower than most wine. Many people prefer cider for its low buzzablity. Some drink it because, unlike beer, it’s naturally gluten free. Others are looking for a new taste experience.

Tart apples, the kind you want to immediately spit out, are best for making cider. Its juice has to balance a blend of acidity, sweetness and tannins. Once fermented, cider falls along a continuum from dry to sweet and sounds like wine in its descriptions: fruity, floral, spicy, nutty, sour, acidic, earthy, caramelized, citrus.

And Holy Johnny Appleseed! There are a lot of cideries stirring up flavor combos across the country.

Cherry, strawberry, grapefruit, blueberry, pear are just a few of the fruits popping into apple’s aging brew. Like craft beer concoctions, all kinds of spices and flavors are added.

“We’re known for our vanilla bean cider,” said Michelle Hernich, general manager of Locust Cider in Woodinville. “It’s something everyone loves.”

Locust is one of several smaller, newer companies coming to the festival, along with Chatter Creek, also of Woodinville and Snowdrift Cider and Pear UP Cider, both from Wenatchee. Bigger, more established brands, such as Finn River and Seattle Cider Company will also have booths.

Although cider has been the fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry the last few years, its popularity dates back to America’s first English settlers.

Finding only crab apples upon arrival, colonists imported apple seeds from their native land and orchards soon blossomed in New England.

Founding Father John Adams is rumored to have consumed cider by the tankard every morning. For lunch, dinner even working in the fields, cider flowed like water, maybe because its alcohol made it safer to drink than water.

Back then, children drank Ciderkin, a weaker alcoholic drink made from soaking apple pomace in water. That’s not being offered at the Whidbey festival.

The Apple State, naturally, leads the way in cider’s booming business. A decade ago, four or five companies produced cider in Washington. Five years ago that number tripled. Today, 63 craft cideries dot the Evergreen State from Port Townsend to Pullman, according to cider blogger Eric West.